Purdue is now 15 games into the season, so we have an idea of who is performing well and who is not. With 11 scholarship players on the roster all 11 are getting regular playing time. Of those, eight had playing time at the Division I level last season, so we can take a look and see who has improved and who has regressed.
Let's look at them by class:
Terone Johnson - 14.2 ppg, 4.1 rpg, 2.3 apg - Numbers-wise, TJ is having the best season of his career. The improvement hasn't been significant, however. His scoring is up less than a point while his rebounding and assist numbers are down. The biggest improvement has been his three-point shooting, where he is hitting at a 41.2% rate compared to 34.6%. I think part of this is from the types of threes he shoots. Over his career TJ has been far better when he has been able to catch and shoot in rhythm. Off the dribble his jumper is not nearly as accurate. This year we've been able to get more of those rhythm threes.
TJ is also playing about four fewer minutes per game, making him a more efficient player. His free throw shooting is a little down at 60.9%, but in the last few games it has actually been very good when you look at his career numbers. He is 16 of 22 in the last five games, bumping him up to 72%.
With some more wins, TJ is in line for another Second or Third team all-Big Ten season. There are simply too many good players in the league for a First Team finish. In my opinion he has been the better of the Johnson brothers.
Travis Carroll - 1.9 ppg, 1.7 rpg - The contributions of Tacos often transcend statistics, as he is a Gene Keady throwback type of player. He is not the most talented guy on the floor, but he is going to play smart and hustle his ass off. That will give him far more playing time than his numbers suggest. His numbers are almost exactly in line with last season.
Tacos' best season was two years ago, when he was playing twice as many minutes, mostly out of necessity. In fewer minutes however, he is possibly one of Purdue's most efficient players. He is shooting an impressive 64.7% from the field. That tells me he is a smart shooter that takes high percentage shots. We have seen that he has a decent jumper and in his career he is even a good three-point shooter (3 of 7 for his career). In a different world I would have played him as a four that could stretch the floor with his jumper. He has an effective 15 footer and has shown enough that as a tall three-pointer shooter, as Wisconsin often uses, he could be an interesting weapon.
Errick Peck - 4.9 ppg, 4.9 rpg, 1.0 apg - Peck's numbers are going to be skewed because he played a much bigger role with Cornell than he has at Purdue. They needed him to do more, while Purdue has used him as a valuable role player.
Where he has value for Purdue is as a rebounder and player that can pick up those garbage baskets on put-backs. Peck's role is a very silent, but consistent 5 and 5 per game, which is what Purdue needs from its role players. He hasn't done as much of late, but if Purdue makes the NCAA Tournament it will have Peck to thank. He has six made three-pointers, showing he is at least a threat from long range. None were bigger than his first, which came with Purdue down four to Northern Kentucky in the season opener. He misses that and Purdue likely has an awful loss on its resume.
Sterling Carter - 4.5 ppg, 1.2 rpg, 1.0 spg - Purdue knew it was getting a streak shooter when it got Carter from Seattle, and that is what he has been. He hit 170 three-pointers in a little over two years at Seattle (his third season was limited to only eight games). In his time at Seattle he had some huge games of 28 points and some games where he was even held scoreless.
One of his better games at Purdue was yesterday, where he had 10 points and hit a pair of three-pointers as the Boilers attempted a comeback. Carter is far more consistent as a defender, where he has done a good job with a steal per game. His scoring is way down from his time at Seattle, but he is also playing half as many minutes as he did in his best season there. If Carter is a streak shooter he has been in a slump at just 33% from the field. That tells me he has a big game or two lurking somewhere. Don't be surprised if he has an out-of-nowhere 20 point game where he bombs in five or six threes.
A.J. Hammons - 8.6 ppg, 7.1 rpg, 3.6 bpg - And we reach the most contentious player on the entire team. Hammons has the talent to not only be a First Team all-Big Ten player, but to be a lottery pick in the NBA. We have seen that as recently as Tuesday, when he had a monster 18-16-5 game and still hadn't scratched the surface because he missed 10 shots and had a number of balls batted out of his hands in the post.
As always, consistency is the biggest issue. A.J. is attempting three fewer shots from the field per game. Already twice this year he has not taken a single field goal, which is absurd considering he is a 7-foot tall center that is physically dominant over 95% of the players he is facing. It is not a surprise that in those two games Purdue struggled against Rider and lost to Washington State. Hammons' scoring is down while his rebounding and blocks are up, so he is still a strong defensive presence.
Yesterday against Minnesota Purdue was not getting him the basketball and Elliott Eliason played a great defensive game with six blocks. Eliason clearly outplayed Hammons, which was a big surprise. Hammons can only do so much when he doesn't get the basketball. He struggled on the glass yesterday, but when he puts in the work, like the Ohio State game, so much more opens up.
It really is as simple as give the ball to Hammons and let the big man eat in some games. Ohio State had no one that could physically match up to him and he thrived. Minnesota had Eliason, and he struggled. Fortunately, few Big Ten teams have an Eliason.
Ronnie Johnson - 11.2 ppg, 2.6 rpg, 3.9 apg - RJ took a beating yesterday, both in the comments and in my article. He gets accused of playing hero ball and hurting Purdue often. Yesterday was similar, as he took some really dumb shots that ended up hurting the Boilers. He still finished with 12 points and 7 assists, which is going to win a lot of basketball games if your point guard is going to do that.
If anything, Ronnie is becoming more efficient. His scoring is up while his minutes are down compared to last season. He has three-points shooting has drastically improved from 16.7% to 39.1%. His free throw shooting has also improved from 59.6% to 66.1%. In that number lies some clutch improvement. He hit the game-winning free throws vs. Northern Kentucky, was 11 of 12 in the second Siena game, and, in general, has been the guy with the ball in his hands at the end of the game.
Ronnie has taken a lot of flack, but he has improved as a player.
Rapheal Davis - 4.7 ppg, 3.2 rpg, 1.1 apg - Ray D. is struggling greatly, even though he is working as hard as ever. I see him and he is a player still moving without the ball on offense and doing what is necessary, but his shooting is down 37.7% from 48.2% in slightly fewer minutes. Last year he had a handful of big games against Notre Dame and Minnesota, but this season he hasn't put it together since 14 against Central Connecticut State.
It is unfortunate because we know he is a hard worker. Can see him as a guy that can contribute a three per game, a few rebounds, and be a solid player at the three, but he is struggling so much that I see other players taking his minutes.
We do know that Ray D. is going to work hard though. I can see him taking some of the minutes and scoring lost from Peck and TJ next season. We have seen the glimpses of what can happen when he is on. If he puts it together, watch out.
Jay Simpson - 4.9 ppg, 4.2 rpg - Simpson is in a unique position in that he has some stats from last year, but is still a freshman. In about five more minutes per game his scoring and rebounding has doubled. Unfortunately, his numbers continue to drop because he has done very little since the Boston College game. He had a big game against Northern Kentucky with 14 points. He had 66 total points in the first nine games, but only eight in the last six. In the last four games he has almost as many total minutes as he did vs. Northern Kentucky.
Tacos is playing more and contributing more because right now he is playing better. It is that simple.
Bryson Scott - 8.9 ppg, 2.5 rpg, 1.5 apg - Now we're to the true freshmen, and Bryson Scott has not been a disappointment. He has been a decent scorer and provides a much-needed boost of energy, as we saw yesterday, that is sometimes lacking with this team. There is no question that he is a player that always plays with maximum effort.
Bryson just needs to channel that energy. He still plays like a loose cannon, barreling into the lane and hoping to get bailed with a call. If he gets the call, he often converts it, as he is one of Purdue's best free throw shooters at over 75%. He only shoots 40% from the field, however. Going forward it is going to be a delicate balance between him and RJ. Next season they may be on the floor together a lot more. Right now RJ is the better distributor, but Bryson can add that to his game.
Kendall Stephens - 7.1 ppg, 1.6 rpg - As Purdue struggled to shoot the three last season many people made Kendall out to be some sort of long-range savant. To some, he was the solution as if he was going to come in and shoot 75% from long range. So far he has had his moments. He is hitting at 35% from long range and had some big games, but struggles at times. He is the player I am most confident that can knock down a wide open look, but he has had a few in the last couple of games that he couldn't knock down. Against Ohio State he was 0-for-4 and was 0-for-3 against Butler, both losses. Purdue is going to need him to become Ryne Smith, the later years, when he was hitting better than 43% from long range and, if he gets a wide open look, you might as well put the three points on the board and head to the other end.
Basil Smotherman - 6.7 ppg, 3.7 rpg - Last, but not least, we have Basil, who has been a huge surprise. With the incoming fifth-year transfers and an expected leap from Ray D. I thought Basil was in for a season of few minutes and maybe even a redshirt. Instead, he is an energy guy and player most likely to boost the home crowd with a ruthless dunk in traffic. He needs to be more consistent at the free throw line (he is 13 of 26), but who doesn't on this team?
Basil is a good defender and a hustler that can give you some of those garbage baskets on offensive rebounds. He has the mentality to attack the basket and the size to do so with effectiveness. At 65% from the field he, like Tacos, is a very smart shooter. Of course, a ruthless throw down dunk is a very high percentage shot. If Basil is going to get better, watch out.
The walk-ons - They are not getting regular minutes and playing only in blowouts, but I have to give some credit to Anfernee Brown, Stephen Toyra, Neal Beshears, and John McKeeman as walk-ons who are also pushing the 11 scholarship guys in practice. In limited minutes Toyra leads them with 8 points in 13 minutes and is 4 for 4 from the line. Beshears, next year's lone senior and the player who has been in the program the longest, is the only player on the roster who has not scored.
Among these four, I would say Beshears, with his experience and size at 6'7", is the player most likely to see more PT if necessary, though Toyra got some surprise first half minutes last year at Penn State.